Last updated: September 18, 2022
Link shortening services are great for squeezing long links into tiny places. A shortened link is a URL with fewer characters that redirects to a longer destination URL. Many reasons exist for wanting to shorten a link. They are easier to type and remember and are a method for tracking clicks. Shortening a link masks the original link, and its actual destination becomes unknown. The need to check shortened links for safety arises from this circumstance.
Short links are easier to share than long links. Websites often append links with query strings. A query string added to a link can extend the length of a link by scores or even hundreds of characters, a displeasing aesthetic. Links of that size are often truncated or divided when they reach the recipient. Such links may point to useless, invalid locations. Shortening services remedy the long link issue by reducing them into 10 to 30 character URLs.
Shortened links are also useful in applications that impose character limits. Twitter imposes a 280 character limit per message. They created the t.co link-shortening service to shorten links shared using its platform. Shortened links in tweets have a 23 character limit. The links use the t.co domain name. This allows Twitter to count the clicks on each link and to check it for malicious content. Twitter checks shortened links for safety against a list of potentially harmful websites. If a link points to malicious content, Twitter displays a warning message.
Some link shortening services provide opportunities to preview the destination of a shortened link. If you want to preview the destination link of a Bitly.com link, add a plus sign to the end of their shortened link. For example, preview the destination link of https://bit.ly/331n0ZB by visiting https://bit.ly/331n0ZB+ instead. A preview page displays on the Bitly.com site with information about the shortened link. Bitly.com checks its shortened links for malware using data from independent sources.
TinyURL also provides a preview feature for its shortened links. The preview link gives recipients confidence because they know the destination before clicking it. Add “preview” to a TinyURL link as a subdomain to check its redirected destination. For example, preview the destination link of tinyurl.com/3zzp9dvd by visiting preview.tinyurl.com/3zzp9dvd instead.
Clicking a t.co, Bitly, or TinyURL preview link provides some safety assurances. But what about links created by other link shortening services? Many sites offer a method to check shortened URLs for safety. One such site is CheckShortURL. It supports most of the popular link shortening services. Input a shortened link into their search box and click the Expand button.
The CheckShortURL results page displays the original destination link. You can also check the safety of the expanded link before you visit it by using common services like Sucuri and Norton.
Another site to view the redirect link for a shortened link is Unshorten.It!. Input a shortened link into their search box, then click the Unshorten.It! button. The results page displays the destination link and even includes a safety rating for the destination site from Web of Trust.
Plenty of other link-shortening and link-checking services exist out there. These are a few of our favorites.
Thank you for visiting Tech Help Knowledgebase to learn how to check shortened links for safety before you click them.
Henry Irvine, Contributing Technology Writer, translates more than a decade of internet technology experience in product and customer relationship management into practical help and how-to content. Look for him on Bay Area trails, music venues, or sausage shacks when he’s not writing. Don’t call him Hank if you see him. Seriously. Hank on Twitter